Freedom equals responsibility

Recently, GMTV asked me to go along and talk about alcohol
advertising on morning TV. When I got there I found it was a bit of a stitch-up. The interview was actually about banning alcohol advertising. And I was supposed to be the bad guy.

The government claimed advertising was to blame for binge
drinking. So, being interviewed alongside me, there was a very nice 23
year-old woman who had a history of binge drinking. She said that one of the things that caused her to start was
the advertising for Bacardi Breezers.

The interviewer asked me if I felt responsible. I said, “The job of
advertising is to sell product or brands when, where, and how we’re legally
allowed to. My relationship with
my client is to do the best job I can to take sales away from their

He said, “So what
you’re saying is that you think it’s okay to encourage young people to drink

I said, “I don’t
encourage anyone to drink more. I’m not legally allowed to and that’s not my
job. It’s my job to make sure that, if you are allowed to drink, you drink the
brand I’m advertising.”

He turned to the young woman on the sofa and said, “So basically he’s perfectly happy for
young people drink to excess as long as they drink the brand he’s advertising.

Do you think that’s a responsible

She said, “Well no, I
don’t think you should be able to encourage young people to drink to excess.”

I said, “We’re not
legally allowed to encourage young people to drink to excess. There are many
controls in place to ensure we don’t do that. My job is to make
sure that people who the law says can drink, choose my client’s brand over the

He said, “But you
must take some responsibility for the results of people drinking to excess.”

I said, “I don’t make
the law. What I do is sell my client’s brand above their competitor’s brand.”

He said, “And you’re
willing to sell as much of your client’s product as possible?”

I said, “Yes of
course. That’s what I’m paid for. That’s how democracy and capitalism work. I
work within the law to take sales from my client’s competitors.”

He said, “Well you’re
very successful at it according to the governments figures on young people

And so the interview went on, in a sort of Daily Mail style. With him purposely misunderstanding what I was saying in order
to have a scapegoat. The part I found confusing in all this was that at no point
did anyone consider the young woman’s role.

She was just assumed to be a passive recipient of
mind-altering advertising. As if she herself had no responsibility in choosing to
binge-drink. She was just a victim. Does the same thing work with all advertising?

Mark & Spencer’s advertising makes their food look
utterly seductive. In fact it’s Y&R’s job to make it seem irresistible. So, if I eat too much food and become obese, can I blame
advertising? Or do I have any free choice in the matter of how much to

Audi’s ads make their cars look better than their
competitors. In fact it’s BBH’s job to make them utterly desirable. So, if I buy a car and drive too fast and kill someone, can
I blame advertising? Or do I have free choice in the matter of how fast to drive?

All advertising agencies try to make the products they’re
selling look desirable. That’s their job. Whether it’s holidays, toys, clothes, furniture, computers,
telephones, newspapers, chocolate, or lawnmowers. That’s what selling is.

So, if I rob a bank to get the money to buy all those
things, and get caught, can I blame advertising? Or do I have free choice about what I can afford or not? I thought the whole point of a free society was to let
everyone know what their choices where.

Then let them choose. If we don’t let people choose, they’re not really free are
they? But, there’s another side to that coin. If we are free to choose, we have to take responsibility for
our choices.

So it’s a simple equation: more freedom = more responsibility. And that’s hard for people. To take responsibility for the bad choices they made.

As Sartre said, “We
are condemned to be free.”

  • Dave, As I think I’ve suggested before; the book ‘Godless Morality’ by Richard Holloway, subtitled, Keeping God out of ethics, makes the observation that we have become a society of ‘victims’ and scapegoats’ and that we are all too willingly to defer to an authority to sort it. From what you’ve said in previous posts, I know your mum & dad, like mine, didn’t bring us up like that. I close relative of mine is a clean & sober alcoholic – going on,for what must be, for 20 years. He has never blamed anyone else for the state he got himself into. He also takes great strength from the fact that it was himself alone who got himself out of it. Not a boast. But a fact. Your GMTV experience was another example of the media choosing to create an argument and find someone to blame over arriving a solution. It’s like the producers of a ‘wife swap’ type programme who threw together two white racist and black racist families only to discover that they got on really well. The producers chose not to air it.
    There were no victims, except perhaps the poor bewildered producers, who were left without a programme that would rate (at least, as far as they believed).

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    Nanny state – it’s always someone else’s fault – that’s the problem with the burgeoning blame culture of our spineless society.
    She decided to watch TV or read the magazines that the ads featured in, she decided to go to the bar and buy the drink, she decided to get trollied too often and now she expect someone else to take responsibility to for her actions.
    Are Tennents Super and diamond white to blame for ASBOs?
    Middle England points a boney finger again and the collected crippled livers say: ‘Yeah, if it wasn’t for advertising, we’d be sat home at night processing coco and lasting forever.’
    I smoke. It’s a stupid thing to do. But it’s my own stupidity – uninfluenced by advertising… unless you fancy taking the blame for that one too Dave?

  • That is ridiculous, I totally agree with your point of view Dave, and it is amazing how people are so quick to blame something, anything, other than themselves. But thats the way we go; bad habits = but because… Good habits however aren’t ‘blamed’ on advertising either. In terms of binge drinking, if we HAD to blame anyone, lets blame the bars who offer happy hours, 2 for 1 shots, buy 2 gets 2 free offers.. and the student’s unions where you can get a pint for 99p on certain nights. That is more encouraging younger people to drink than anything else. But I don’t agree with blaming these kind of places either though, just that they come closer to causing binge-drinking than any ad could ever do. And when will people realise advertisers don’t create the product? If it is out there, it IS out there,

  • The people are happy, they are the fat of the land
    In a proud country where chips are legal but guns are banned
    Isn’t it paradise when you have the freedom choose
    between the luxury goods, drugs, fags, chips or booze

    From The Fat of the Land by

  • Dave…
    Not living over there, correct me if I’m wrong, but I assume GMTV is a morning program that runs on ITV… Which carries booze ads. Doesn’t this make the interviewer a hypocrite? But then, most of them are.

  • The most impressive bit is that “a very nice 23 year-old woman who had a history of binge drinking” actually accepted to participate in a TV show where she had the role of a brain-free human being, unable to make decisions based on her own opinions on excessive drinking.
    Can you imagine her saying “I love nature.”?
    The reflex response would be: “After all it’s done to you?!”.

  • Spot on Anca. She probably drank to excess for the same reason she agreed to appear on the GMTV – to get noticed. Yes George, the TV station would be equally culpable. After all, it would be their watchdogs deciding whether the ad could run or not.

    As George points out, we should not forget the ‘very nice 40-something TV presenter with a contract that say insists he doesn’t have an opinion other than that fed to him via his earpiece from the producer’.

    Dave, it’s clear that your sojourn into AM TV was more as a missionary than a commentator.

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    Hi Dave,

    Remember those great Holsten Pils ads you guys did!
    I never felt the urge to tunnel out of a concentration camp afterwards,
    and I never drank Holsten Pils because it was in bottles, which to me
    made it a bit of a girly drink.

    I think you’ll find if somebody wants to get xxxxfaced, there’s nothing on this planet that will stop them, and as Bob says, the Girl was just looking for attention, but she was probably stitched-up too. I think you should invite the presenter to your christmas party and make sure there’s a few press guys around to take a few “family snaps” , like a “before” and “after” ad, and run it as an anti drink ad. Should get some publicity, and balance the books.

  • Was it Ogilvy or someone else who said “Everyone hates advertising until they have something to sell”?

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    Hi George,
    That’s a fantastic response and I wish I’d thought of it sitting on the sofa in front of the TV cameras: “If you think alcohol advertising is a problem. how come this TV company accepts alcohol adverts that pay your salary? Will you forego the portion of your salary derived from alcohol advertising?”
    Dammit, don’t you hate thinking of great come-backs after the event?

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    Also, I don’t think he quite got how ridiculous it would be for me to just sell alcohol per se.
    If my client’s brand has 10% of the market, for every 10 extra bottles I sell, 9 of them will be my clients’ competitors.
    Why would I sell my c;lient’s competitors products when I can use the money more efficiently by taking their share away?

  • How flattering that our industry is accused of shaping social behaviour. Marketeers who cut their budgets take note. Facebook beware, that shy teenager who is now confident in meeting people just got pregnant. COI ban on Facebook anyone? This society has reached a level where a debate is only ever one-sided, controlled by those who broadcast loudest. Hypocrisy is a human condition and was when the cave guy, who liked the other cave guy, stole his meat. It is a dichotomy when an industry feted for its’ moral terpitude is clearly more self-aware than the guardians of fair play. Bring back Richard and Judy.

  • Dave, Leo Burnett also said, a principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money.
    The TV company would say, if you don’t like our principles, we have others …as long as they don’t cost us money.

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    Hi Dave,

    Glad to see someone’s put the interview on You Tube. It’s clear you’re honest.
    It’s patently clear that GMTV were being misleading by your surprise at the question, and the people that comes off worst are the interviewer and GMTV.
    As an impartial viewer, you can see he’s so embarrassed. I must admit, I dont watch GMTV because I’ve seen thist type of interview technique before. Perhaps it might be worth having another interview on the competitive channel.
    I hope you gave him a piece of your mind afterwards !!!!!!

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    What kind of binge drinker is getting up for breakfast telly anyway, surely they would still be on the lash? It all sounds a bit fishy to me.

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    Absolutely right John.
    On “Mock the Week” they’d be busy thinking up new names for GMTV.

    It seems as far as they are concerned freedom equals irresposibility.

    Look at the message they are giving to young viewers:-
    Blame the TV ads as a scapegoat for your irresponsible drinking.

    What does that tell them? Get wrecked under the allusion that you are free to be as irresponsible as you like and then blame it on others. This is the sort of stuff that ruins people’s lives when the vulnerable are placed on camera and made even more vulnerable.

    All a binge drinker needs is one pathetic excuse to set them off and send them on a 10 year binge under the auspices that it’s alright because GMTV said so by making it socially acceptable by running ads as George quite rightly pointed out. Then, once they are in their cycle of madness they cannot escape. Well done GMTV for setting off the next generation of binge drinkers single handedly. Never has such a hash been made by so few to so many.

    And…of course, being a morning show, they are being totally irresponsibe in manipulating the content at a time when anyone suffering from binge drinking is going to be at their most vulnerable. Gagging for a drink. It’s not good PR, and trying to mug Dave publicly on TV is not a good idea. No that’s a VERY VERY VERY BAD IDEA INDEED, in fact IT SUCKS!

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    True, true. (And a good time is out there somewhere.) Humans are, possibly, sometimes, maybe, a product of nurture as well as nature, perhaps? It’s arguable that our environments shape us, isn’t it? And therefore a media environment that describes drinking alcohol as exciting and sexy will encourage some people – possibly because they’re too weak-willed, diseased, stupid or ill-educated – to drink excessively – working on the basis of ‘more alcohol = more sexy and exciting’. Duh! How stupid/weak-willed/irresponsible/diseased/ill-educated can people be? It’s also arguable that these – the weak-willed, diseased, stupid or ill-educated – are the very people that brands, through their ad campaigns, are targetting and battling each for, being the most profitable. I’m sure that’s not planned, but you can see how the accusation might be made, in an evolutionarily perfect market in which the individual takes all responsibility for his/her actions. That’s ok, though, because in an evolutionarily perfect market they will die out soon enough (weak/irresponsible = not fit enough = doomed to extinction), probably of drink-related illness/incident (though not, sadly, before they’ve drained the rest of us dry through placing irresponsible demands on us all through tax-funded healthcare, chiz) so it’s not really worth worrying about. The free, strong, well-educated and responsible among us will survive to enjoy more booze advertising, and booze, for endless generations to come.
    Excellent and thought-provoking post as always.

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    That’s a really thought-provoking response. Especially the last part.
    I’ve just printed it off and I’ll give it to someone who i think will benefit from it.

  • Dave, TV companies and the tabloid press seem to bent on commoditising ‘social responsibility’. You can pick it up as quickly as you can put it down. From their perspective, it’s unnatural to practice self-control and common sense. It’s natural to fall foul of any influence or message you come across. Hypnotists will tell you, you can’t hypnotise someone who doesn’t want to be hypnotised. You can’t influence someone who doesn’t want to be influenced. Alcohol addiction follows binge drinking. It takes an aweful lot of bingeing before you are addicted. People have time to make a choice. Getting blotto on a daily basis fulfils a need to numb something. Not embrace an lifestyle depicted in a Bacardi Breezer ad.

  • Dave, TV companies and the tabloid press seem to bent on commoditising ‘social responsibility’. You can pick it up as quickly as you can put it down. From their perspective, it’s unnatural to practice self-control and common sense. It’s natural to fall foul of any influence or message you come across. Hypnotists will tell you, you can’t hypnotise someone who doesn’t want to be hypnotised. You can’t influence someone who doesn’t want to be influenced. Alcohol addiction follows binge drinking. It takes an aweful lot of bingeing before you are addicted. People have time to make a choice. Getting blotto on a daily basis fulfils a need to numb something. Not embrace an lifestyle depicted in a Bacardi Breezer ad.

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    I agree Bob,
    I always loved the B&H advertising, but I don’t smoke cigars.
    I liked Smirnoff advertising but I don’t drink vodka.
    I like Burger King advertising, but I don’t eat meat.
    I liked Obama’s advertising, but I would have voted for Hilary.
    Advertising is one of a dozen influences that make you choose something.
    But I think the operative words are ‘influence’ and ‘choose’.
    I may have an influence, but I can’t make you choose.

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    So what you’re saying Dave is if you have freedom of choice, which we do have to a dgeree in this country, you have to take up the responsibility that comes with that feedom.

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    Hi Kevin,
    That’s right. It’s Sartre’s point about ‘bad faith’ and living inauthentically.
    If I don’t want to take responsibilty for what I’ve done I have to give that responsibility (blame) to someone else.
    If I give the rsponsibility for making my choices to someone else, I’ve given them my freedom to choose.
    I revert to being a child: I don’t get to choose, so I don’t have to take responsibility.
    It can’t work that you get the freedom to choose without the responsibility for your choices.

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    Unless you’re in the 50+ age group, there is such thing as drinking NOT to get drunk.

    People drink to get drunk, if some international concensus considers drinking more than 5 drinks as a ‘binge’ then we are all guilty.

    You cant stop people getting drunk. Scandinavian counties charge exorbitant amount for alcohol, Finn’s are some of the heaviest drinkers I have ever seen.

    Why is ‘binge drinking’ a problem? Too many hooligans getting into scraps and spending state funds on A&E? Too many teenage pregnancies? It must come down to the cost to the state.

    Tax alcohol companies more. So what? People choose to drink. So be it, you chose to cover them for all accidents and incidents. Deal with it, stop moaning and get on with it.

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    Michael (mm) and Grace,
    Apparently you both deleted your comments before they could be oublished.
    That’s a shame as they were good.
    Particularly yours Michel, please send them in again if you can.

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    Hi Dave – wasn’t me who deleted it, so not sure what happened, admin at BR I assume – glad you found some value in what I was trying to say – thanks as usual for well-written provocative argument.

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    So that’s what “Bad faith” is. Having never read Sartre, I did wonder…of course being brought up as a Catholic in the 60’s I had no choice.
    Being told you are the one true faith etc etc…
    Everyone was to blame except us. We all had first class tickets to heaven reserved (not). It came as a bit of a shock to me when someone said one day: “I suffer from BSE. Blaming someone else”. Since then I’ve changed my view on everything. I had to. I couldn’t fight the world. It was bigger than me.

    Ironically, I guess there is a similar disposition when it comes to Alcohol.

    The binge drinker, still feeling resntful at the world and it’s mother decides to get in the ring once again thinking “this time it will be different”. It is (as far as situation details go) however, the consequences sadly remain the same, and eventually get worse.

    “If I give the rsponsibility for making my choices to someone else,
    I’ve given them my freedom to choose”. (Dave)

    How many of us have done just that !
    Given our power away !

    You know, that feeling when you say something…
    and fractions of a millisecond after you think…

    and the worst thing is, there’s no way back out of it.

    Shucks, it’s life.
    I guess we all do it to varying degrees.

    These days when a situation like that occurs I find it it best to “engage brain before opening mouth”. It pays enormous benefits. When a person is expecting an answer and they get nothing ( becuse I’m thinking about it ) That’s not because I’m intelligent, it’s because I’m a slow thinker.
    However, it really throws them.

    My Uncle was a lovely man. He taught me the Greek alphabet on a bus to the British Museum (God bless him). After his wife died, his sister came down from Scotland to look after him. She used to make him breakfast while he read the paper. She used to gabble on about all sorts of mindless nonsense and he used to totally ignore her. She used to get infuriated by his unreasonableness.

    I used to keep saying “What” to her and making her repeat herself. Together we totally exhausted the poor woman. She lost it with me one day and screamed: “You! You listen to what I have to say first time or no dinner!”

    My Uncle’s daughter-in-law once posed him a question.
    He did not answer.
    Because he was almost seventy, she raised her voice.
    He still didn’t answer, and kept reading his book.
    Finally, exacerbated, she screamed at him
    “why aren’t you answering my question!!!”

    His calm response:

    “Your question was not good enough to deserve one my dear”.

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    Michael (mm),
    That’s really odd.
    Again I got notification of your comment in my email, but it didn’t appear here.
    That’s a shame.
    As you can see from my comment above, I’ve been quoting it.
    Especially the last part about denial and the plexiglass box.

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    The individual’s responsibility reminds me of an excerpt from ‘Midnight Run’.

    Why would you eat that?
    – Why? ‘Cause it tastes good.
    But it’s not good for you.
    – I’m aware of that.
    Why would you do something
    you know is not good for you?
    Because I don’t think about it.
    – That’s living in denial.
    Living in denial?
    – Yeah.
    I’m aware of that.
    – So you’re aware of all your behavior.
    Yet you do things not good for you.
    Don’t you think that sounds foolish?

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    Hi Michael (mm),
    The editor thinks the problem may be that you’re using a Mac and Safari browser.
    He suggests posting in Firefox works better.
    Hope this helps.

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    Youknow what’s really odd Michael?
    I copied off your comment and pasted it here and it hasn’t appeared.
    And it hasn’t appeared, Do-do-do-do. Do-do-do-do. (Twilight Zone theme.)